Category Archives: teacher ethics
weeks months ago the twitterverse in New Zealand was awash with indignation when a young court reporter was asked to leave the media bench of a high profile media trial as her gold sequinned pants were deemed inappropriate for occasion. Depending of your point of view, the pants were either a symbol of the younger generation’s complete disrespect for the authority of the court or sexism in action.
The case of the sequinned pants got me thinking about teaching dress code.
One of the tips that inevitably is passed on to newbie teachers, particularly younger ones, is that you need to dress professionally. Of course this inevitably opens up a huge can of worms as to what professional dress for teachers actually is. Some schools, at least in New Zealand, don’t particularly care if teachers have tattoos, dreadlocks and flip flops while others think that professional dress is nothing short of teachers showing up in business attire every day.
One of the easiest ways to gauge acceptable dress for a school is to look at what other teachers are doing and follow that. However that doesn’t really leave much room for teachers to develop their own own individual style and as the disco pants show us, one person’s awesome can another person’s inappropriate. And the thing with teachers is that it isn’t just the senior management of a school that will weigh in on teacher dress. Politicians, parents and in particular students will quickly voice an opinion on what they think is acceptable teacher attire if given the opportunity.
Which leads to an important question do clothes maketh the teacher?
I don’t buy into the argument that teachers will be accorded more respect if teachers dressed more like lawyers, accountants and the important people who work in offices. Schools are far different from offices. Offices tend to be well heated and the inhabitants usually sit at their desks all day.
On the other hand, I spend a lot of my time either sitting on the floor or walking around the classroom checking in on groups of students. Then there’s lunchtime duty and P.E classes which may or may not involve walking across a muddy field. What’s more whenever there is an art activity, I almost always end up with paint on my clothes. The outfits I wore as an office drone don’t really work for me in the classroom as the dry-cleaning costs alone would be enough to put me off wearing a lot of my old clothes.
As a recent transplant to Wellington my primary concern isn’t keeping my clothes clean but rather keeping warm. My students might be walking around shorts and polo shirts in the middle of winter while I am shivering under two or three layers of clothes plus a jacket. The classroom door opens straight out into the elements so even with heater on an icy blast of Wellington wind is ushered into the class any time someone enters or exits the room.
There is a school of thought that teachers are role models for students and we dress relays how seriously we take our jobs. However as the case of the sequinned pants demonstrates, professional dress doesn’t necessarily equal professional behaviour with a ‘serious’ newspaper committing some dubious reporting of the story. Teachers shouldn’t be relying on their clothing alone to gain respect.
Nevertheless clothes do matter. In a past life I’ve been on hiring committees where a candidate’s attire played a part in a decision to say “thanks but no thanks” by the hiring committee. The rather sage advice I had handed down to me; if you can’t see over it, under it or through it you can wear it otherwise forget it, is probably a good to follow for most new teachers.
Can you get away with being a bit more offbeat in your fashion choices? At my first placement there were teachers who had dreads and tattoos and no one seemed to care as long as good teaching and learning was happening. But then being in a trendy liberal part of Auckland such things weren’t ever going to be a big deal with the local community. So yes there are schools that will hire teachers that are bit off-beat in their fashion choices and more importantly teachers who do a bang-up job in the classroom even if they happen to sport some body ink.
Nevertheless for any teacher who outwardly embraces any form of counter-culture, you are probably going to have to compensate for your weird appearance by being hard-working. The best way to get away with being a weird-looking teacher is to be really good at your job so that’s what people focus on.
If you’re more lax with regards to your work habits, then outwardly embracing counter-culture as a teacher is going to be more of a challenge, because then you’re the weirdo teacher with dreads. So yes you can deviate away from the traditional teacher ‘look,’ in certain places but you will probably need to overcompensate a bit with more hard-working awesomeness.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 7.b
Graduating teachers uphold the New Zealand Teachers Council Code of Ethics/Ngā Tikanga Matatika.
A few weeks ago I had someone “why were graduating teacher standards established in nz” and I thought “that’s a good question to which I don’t know the answer.” So I decided to blog on it and knock out another GTS post while I’m at it (because being on Teaching Experience I’m need to be a lot more efficient with my time).
Graduating Teacher Standards aren’t unique to New Zealand. In fact my project of blogging on each of the New Zealand Graduting standards was inspired by a Sydney-based student teacher blogging on the New South Wales version a few months ago.
The New Zealand stanadards were introduced back in2007 and came into effect in 2008. As you can see from the media release from the New Zealand Teachers Council, the reason’s behind the GTS were due to an eneven quality of teachers graduating from the myriad of New Zealand-based intial teacher education providers. This year’s graduates will be third chorot of students to have their perforance assessed against the standards and I’ve had some mixed reviews about the purposes of the standards.
To be honest upon first glance the GTS definitely fell into the ‘useless paperwork we fill in to make bureaucrats happy camp.’ A view that was obviously solidfied when the evidence I needed to gather for the GTS were literally forms to fill out. It wasn’t until I started reflecting on the Graduating Teacher Standards through blogging that I realised that they were more than just some annoying forms that the Teachers Council and the University makes me fill out, they are a conceptual framework on which I can hang my ideas on what I think makes good teaching and a good teacher. Being the giant nerd that I am, I’m already drafting my post against 7.c and am looking forward to finally publishing it because it will be the last post I make on this blog.
The first purpose of the Graduating Teacher Standards is obvious, they are used as an assessment tool for Associate Teachers and Visiting Lecturers to assess my progress. Looking back on my learning, I can see from formal teaching appraisals where I progressed from competent to strong on each of the Graduating Teacher Standards. I didn’t quite make goal of getting a clean sweep of seven strongs on one report but my last Associate Teacher gave me six out of seven so I’m pretty stoked about that.
The second purpose for the standards are more philosophical. Teachers are called upon to make hundreds of little decisions a day some of which are mundane does little Timmy get to go the toilet a few minutes before lunch through to biggies like suspected child abuse and the political minefield that is sex education.*
In the last 30 or so years there’s been a definite shift in thinking about the status of children within society. Previously a child’s interest was previously seen through the lens of parental rights. If you look at the language of legislation like the Care of Children act, the best interests of the child are at the centre of decision-making. Similar language can be found in the Teacher Council Teacher Ethics. While some would argue that best interests of the child is another example of PC gone mad, it makes sense to place the interest’s of the child at the centre of all decision making if you believe that children are people too.
So yes the Graduating Teacher Standards have some purpose and I’m really looking forward to beginning the next learning journey on the path towards full registration.
* My first meeting as a student member of my school’s Board of Trustees consisted on a very heated discussion on this very topic.
I’ve changed my position on students calling teachers by their first names.
During my first placement was at an intermediate school where I went by Ms Lastname and was reasonably convinced that this was the way to go. I didn’t particularly want to be on a first name basis with my students due to always having to be ‘on’ as a teacher. For this placement I am with year 1/2 class at a school where everyone in the school is on a first name basis with their students and having now experienced the practice of being called Stephanie, I kind of like it.
I thought it might be weird, and it was for the first hour or so, but after that I quickly got used to it because it was simply the culture of the school. In fact the rooms in the school aren’t numbered at all but rather referred to by the teacher’s name classroom. So if I was teaching at my placement for real I wouldn’t be teaching in room 3, it would be Stephanie’s classroom. This sounds a bit egotistical at first glance but the practice seems a lot more warm and welcoming than an impersonal numbered space.
I don’t think the issue of students respecting teachers is a major one. I haven’t noticed any difference in students respecting teachers at my current placement then there was at my last placement. But I discovered that alongside not feeling so detached from my students another unintended benefit when a student talks about another teacher I no longer have to think about who Mr/Mrs Lastname is because I automatically know the teacher’s name. I also like that when I bump into my students outside of school (I live within easy walking distance) the students call me Stephanie as the alternative seems so contrived once you are out of the classroom. So why do most teachers insist on keeping up the practice inside the classroom?
The issue of teacher names isn’t something that I would go to the matresses over. However if I was given the choice, I think I would opt to be on a first name basis with my students. Nevertheless I can’t help but think that school culture might play a role in my decision as perhaps the reason I enjoy students calling me by my first name is because they call everyone by their first name.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 6.c
“Graduating teachers build effective relationships with their learners.”
What’s in a name?
Well if you are teacher a lot more than what’s on your birth certificate.
I remember being back in primary school where one of my teachers wistfully remarked that the students at a school he visited called their teachers ‘sir’ while in high school I called some of my teachers by their first names. My ex partner’s daughter went to a school where everyone, including the principal, was on a first name basis with their students. The school I am currently doing my placement at had a first-name policy many moons ago only to go back to having students call teachers Mr/Ms/Mrs Surname.
Most of the arguments for teacher sticking with using surnames end to focus on the idea of promoting authority. Using honourifics reminds everyone that the teacher is then senior and as a result gets a title, while the learner is subservient and is called by their forename. According to some supporters, teachers who let their students call them by their first name are responsible for the dumbing down of our education system and the destruction of society as we know it.
However there are some compelling arguments for teaching ditching the old tradition of Mr/Mrs. Firstly it is merely a reflection of a change in society at large for instance, my GP prefers that I call her by her first name and the only people that I would probably to refer to as Mr/Ms Lastname outside of school would be members of the older generation.*
There’s also an argument to be made for consistency. Most teachers in early childhood centres tend to be on a first name basis with their students and it seems a bit odd for a sudden shift towards honourifics once children reach school moreover it sends a rather strange message to students that teachers demand the use of honorifics but that courtesy is sometimes not extended to other members of the school staff such as caretakers and office workers. There’s also the whole Mrs/Ms/Miss debate which I will sidestep for this post (but reflexively flinch whenever I’m called Mrs or Miss). However the most compelling reason is that ditching honourifics helps teachers to create a bond with their students and a more inclusive classroom environment.
Although theoretically I’m drawn to the idea of being being known by my first name, I still find myself wanting to be known as Ms Lastname. However it is not an issue of respect. I’ve come to the conclusion that for me at least, using Ms Lastname has not been about gaining respect from my students. For me respect is something that teachers earn rather than gain through virtue of their position. In fact I would go as far to say that if the only way you can command respect is through your name, then you may not deserve as much respect as you believe. A name is not the only way to command respect, but it is one way to show respect. Saying please and thank you, listening to instructions and taking constructive criticism are far more important than a name.
For me it is an issue of privacy.
From the moment I enter the school gates I am no longer a person, I am a trainee teacher. I need to be ‘on’ at all times. I don’t swear, I seldom lose my temper. I will hear my name called hundreds of times a day. I give so much of myself to my students that when I come home at the end of the day all I want to do is skulk off to watch TV without interruption for a hour to stop being a student teacher and back to being me.
But who am I?
My parents have a pet name for me, my nickname is used by my friends, my full first name is what my co-workers tend to use while Ms Lastname is usually reserved for official correspondence and at the moment for students. Just about everyone will have several suits of identity which dictate how much of themselves they are willing to share with others.
For the moment, my first name is a part of my identity that I wish to keep private from students. Obviously if I was employed in a school where there was a first name policy, I’d be on a first name basis with my student but I’m not pushing to ditch them either.
*Though at my last workplace I referred to many of my co-workers and boss by honourifics.
Graduating Teacher Standard 5.a
Graduating teachers systematically and critically engage with evidence to reflect on and refine their practice.
Every week or so I am supposed to have my teaching assessed by my associate teacher against the Graduating Teacher Standards. This process is part of making sure that I’m competent before I’m let loose on a class of kids (relatively) unsupervised.
My associate teacher has decided to let the students give some feedback into my assessment. Now I should preface my remarks by saying that this school is one that takes student voice seriously. There are regular surveys which gauge student feedback so I am operating in a context where student voice is valued. I should also say that this group of Year 8 (12 year old) students are a thoughtful and highly intelligent bunch who regularly give highly insightful feedback and feed-forward in class.
When I’ve mentioned to people that my students are helping to give I’ve had a few raised eyebrows in response, some of which have come from qualified teachers. I can see why some people would be uncomfortable with the process, kids can be frighteningly honest at times and you’d be surprised what they pick up.
The students know which subjects their teacher doesn’t like to teach because they notice the lack of time the teacher puts into the subjects.
The students know which teachers are marking time and which ones have passion for learning.
The students know that ‘fun’ doesn’t always mean learning but learning should be fun.
Maybe some teachers don’t want to hear at the kids have to say because they know that they won’t like what they hear. But really shouldn’t the kids be at the centre of teaching and learning? Hearing uncomfortable things now is far better than spending years clinging to bad practices. I have no compunction in saying right now I’m probably a bad teacher, I just don’t have the knowledge and experience to be awesome. But everyday I’m learning things from watching and doing, I feel like I’ve learned more in the last 3 weeks in school than I did in the past 2 months slogging away on the books. However I realize that this is an ongoing process and when I feel like I know everything there is to know then its time to retire.
But if teaching and learning should be an ongoing conversation, then surely teachers need to keep tweaking and updating their practice. While having knowledge of what makes effective practice from the ‘experts’ is important, you’ve got 30 or so (little) experts that could give you feedback on your teaching. But more than anything, the kids should be at the heart of any teacher’s practice. Not asking how you could do things differently or what things the learners enjoy seems at odds with that idea.
So to any practicing teacher out there who aren’t already, I encourage you to start asking questions about your practice, you might be pleasantly surprised to hear the answers.
New Zealand Graduating Standard 7.b
Graduating Teachers have knowledge and understanding of the ethical, professional and legal responsibilities of teachers.
A few weeks ago I wondered out loud whether Should student teachers blog. I decided that despite the risks, blogging is a great tool for student teachers. I was going to come up with a list of guidelines however a class of elementary students had already come up with a great list.
Let people know what you are doing
If you are lucky to have blogging as part of your course, then you will already have someone keeping an eye on your online presence. In my case I am the only one (that I know of) who is nerdy enough to blog. However before I got started, I let the powers-that-be at my university know that I would be blogging about my experiences and let them know my blog’s address. I have no idea if anyone from the university actually reads this blog but the point is I know that they could be. For student teachers the social constraints of observation is a good thing. As a bonus, you get more hits.
Be sensitive about subject matter
Bill Cosby was right kids say the darndest things and over the course of the day you are going to hear some stuff which would undoubtedly make for brilliant blogging material. But the children in your Teacher Experience classrooms are not your students and more importantly they are not your kids. Individually identifying them and the schools you are in would not be wise. Likewise you risk making yourself highly unpopular with your fellow student teachers if they feel that you are going to compromise their privacy with your blog.
Don’t pilfer other people’s images without their permission
Images are a great way to give your posts a pop. But as someone who has grown up around a creative industry, I know how important it is that the producers of content get recognition for their work. I’m a photography nerd so try to use my own photos before going out in search of an image. But if I am using others images, I use images that are licensed the Creative Commons. Both google and yahoo allow you to filter your image search for content that you can share with others. Miss T’s reflections has a great list of resources for finding images that you can use. Also never, ever upload photos of individual people without their permission.
Use your blog’s scheduling feature
Regularly updating your blog, is usually a no-brainer as far as blog advice goes. However I will add a caveat: resist the urge to push publish the minute you finish a post. Unless it is something time-sensitive, you don’t have to publish your work right now. In fact having a few posts up your sleeve for when you are busy means your blog will be updated even when you don’t have time blog. From a social networking point of view there is nothing worse than a person who blogs in bursts. For instance if I sign up for blog that has awesome cake recipes thinking mmmmm cake, I hope that the blog is regularly updated because I like reading recipes. But if I don’t hear anything months and suddenly the author pounds out 10 posts on cakes blocking up my feed reader this doesn’t make me want to read their blog, it makes me want to quit the subscription.
Let social networking work for you
My initial readership was largely friends from facebook however I am now a devotee of Twitter for blogging. Writing about such slavish devotion is boring. However I’ve found that twitter regularly brings in hits and the power of retweet means that awesome posts get a far wider audience than those stopping by. It’s also a great way to connect with other educators from around the country and around the world. So if you haven’t already, sign up to twitter.
Link, Link, Link
You’d never turn in an essay without references, likewise your posts should link back to original articles or other posts that inspired you to write on a subject. You’ll end up with more hits as people come in to see why you are linking to their work and maybe one day get someone linking to your stuff. Which is what blogging is all about, sharing.
Dooced (V) to lose one’s job because of one’s website.
One of the most famous bloggers on the internet, Heather Armstrong, spawned a new word after she was fired in 2002 because she wrote satirical accounts of her experiences at work on her blog dooce.com. More recently a teacher in Philadelphia was dismissed after a post on her personal blog about a student’s performance triggered a dispute with the students’ parents and the administration.
The general feeling when it comes to writing about your job is DON’T WRITE ABOUT WORK ON THE INTERNET.
Sharing your thoughts with the outside world doesn’t come without risks. There’s a certain amount of vulnerability in knowing that anyone; potential employers, lecturers, parents not to mention students, could read your thoughts.
The risk that someone could take umbrage to with your online presence should be enough a reason to put most student teachers off blogging. Your career could potentially be over before it started. That’s part of the reason that I have decided to blog under a pseudonym.
Then there is an issue of finding the time. Between assignments, lesson planning and classroom experience teacher education programmes place huge demands on students’ time.
However here are six reasons why I think blogging is a useful tool for student teachers.
1. Blogging aids reflection
Thinking about what you did well and what you could do better in the classroom is integral part of becoming a teacher. Blogging is a great way for you to reflect either by reading the blogs of others, or by researching and thinking about posts of your own.
The best part about blogging is that it has an almost-immediate feedback loop. That means that when you have an idea that needs improving, you should hear about it quickly, and you can then reconsider it. When you have a good idea, you’ll hear about it; when you have an incomplete idea, and some others chip in with suggestions, you’ll get a better-formed idea.
3. You need to improve your writing
Whether you are writing reports, items for school newsletters or a letter about an upcoming field trip, teachers need to have excellent written communication skills. In order to write clear, good prose you will need practice. Blogging will help you get that practice.
4. Expanding your professional network
Participating in the blogging process (reading, commenting and hopefully writing) enables student teachers to connect to with ideas we otherwise wouldn’t find and to people we’d never meet. New Zealand interface magazine has a list of New Zealand-based teacher bloggers but more importantly there’s a global network of educational bloggers out there to enhance our perspectives.
5. You have your very own Pensieve
Dumbledore had a Pensieve to store his important memories in for future use. Us muggles aren’t so lucky. However the archives of your blog are a digital catalogue of your thoughts. Instead of flicking through pages of notes or desperately trying to remember some idea from a few months earlier you can google your own blog in search of something you’ve written before – if you are lucky, it will be because you want to share your idea with others.
6. Expanding our collective knowledge
At the risk of being accused of having delusions of grandeur, blogging contributes to humanity’s understanding of itself. Your blog gives prospective students, current students, university officials, other teachers, parents or members of the public a window into your world which is unique but also one in transition. This makes for interesting blogging material.
What are some advantages to student teachers blogging? What are some of the risks?